The loudest sound in Westbury Park is the soft fall of rain on the park’s 250 mobile homes. The homes are spread out, surrounded by trees, and as of March 6, resident-owned.
Last year, the property went up for sale and the residents had to decide whether or not they wanted to bid on the property. After forming a co-op with the help of CDI, Cooperative Development Institute, and a year of waiting, the residents closed on the property in March. Westbury Park became the second largest resident-owned mobile home park in the state.
Gayle Pezzo, treasurer of Westbury, has lived in the park for the past two and a half years. Pezzo remembers thinking, “Once we walk out of here, we don’t have to worry about people taking our home anymore.”
Jeremiah Ward is a Cooperative Development Specialist at CDI and has been working with the residents throughout the year in order to prepare for the purchase. His role includes training residents on business planning, financial literacy, how to run effective meetings, and giving them a brief overview of state laws governing mobile home parks—a “primer on all aspects of running a park,” he says.
CDI’s involvement and contract with Westbury is tied to the term of the community’s loan. “Each year I should do less and less,” says Ward. “What we’re trying to do is give them the tools to run themselves. The system in place is already really good and there are a lot of good volunteers in the community.”
Westbury is the biggest co-op in Vermont that CDI works with—“the sheer number of people at Westbury who have decided to step up and volunteer is amazing,” says Ward.
The park houses 250 residents, but not all are members. For those that voted to purchase, Pezzo says that the driving force was the desire to have a voice. “We wanted to be in control,” she says.
According to Ward, who has worked with numerous co-ops in the state, one of the benefits of having a resident-owned community is lot rent stabilization. Historically, rent in co-ops increases at a lower rate than an investor-owned mobile home park. In addition, residents are freed up to invest in fixing the park’s infrastructure, rather than funneling money towards someone else’s profit. “Even more attention and resources are dedicated towards preserving the community,” says Ward.
Another positive is the ability to have a voice in how your community is managed.
Pezzo serves Westbury as the treasurer, and she is excited for weekly board meetings to become biweekly, and eventually monthly. “I’m not usually a joiner but I didn’t want to lose my home,” she says of volunteering for the position. “I’m a numbers person and in finances, nobody raises their hand,” she says, laughing. In addition to a board, the community has formed numerous committees dedicated to membership, finances, budget, and social events, among others.
Even though Pezzo has served in a board capacity before, she says that one of the hardest parts of the transition was feeling blind. “Each week is new,” she says. “It’s been very exciting and very exhausting.”
But the residents have stepped up and she feels closer to her neighbors than she did a year ago. Pezzo recalls one applicant who couldn’t put up the $5 deposit needed to begin her application, let alone the following $100. “People didn’t even know her,” she says, “but they got together to help her out and make it happen. We care about each other.”